A Portrait of the Valley




A Portrait of the Valley: San Joaquin Valley Human Development Report 2023, paints a picture of well-being and access to opportunity across the San Joaquin Valley today. The Portrait is an extensive study of well-being across race, place, and gender in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley region.  Using the American Human Development Index (HDI), this report presents how Valley residents are doing on three key dimensions of well-being—a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Broken down by race and ethnicity, by gender, and by census tract, the index shows how communities across the San Joaquin Valley are faring relative to one another and to the state and country as a whole. The report found that stark variation exists by place and by demographic group—resulting in significant inequalities regionwide.

A Portrait of the Valley is part of a larger project, A Portrait of California 2021–2022, which explores well-being in the state as a whole, with a special focus on housing.

The HDI is expressed on a scale from zero to ten, with ten indicating higher levels of well-being across health, education, and standard of living. The San Joaquin Valley as a whole scores 4.31, falling significantly below the California statewide score of 5.85. Of the six racial and ethnic groups for whom it is possible to calculate an HDI score, Asian (5.55 out of 10) and white (5.18) Valley residents have the highest levels of well-being. Residents who identify as Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander (4.17), Latino (3.87), Black (3.32), and Native American (2.67) have much lower scores, indicating the greater challenges to well-being and access to opportunity these groups face.

Among census tracts in the San Joaquin Valley, HDI scores range from a low of 0.96 in Census Tract 13.01 in Kern County to a high of 8.58 in Census Tract 43.01 in Fresno County. Over 200 census tracts in the Valley—more than one in five—score below 3.0 on the 10-point HDI scale. Residents of these areas face more barriers to opportunity than do those who live in the San Joaquin Valley’s higher-scoring areas. They have much lower levels of well-being—shorter life expectancies, less access to education, and extremely low earnings—than others in the region or the state, on average. The residents of these census tracts tended to be most vulnerable when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and continue to face the greatest challenges to recovery today.



  • The average life expectancy for residents of the San Joaquin Valley is 78.2 years, 2.9 years shorter than the state average. A baby girl born today in the San Joaquin Valley can expect to live 81.0 years, a baby boy, 75.6 years—a 5.4-year difference.



  • Compared to adults ages 25 and up in California as a whole, adult residents of the San Joaquin Valley are less likely to have earned a high school diploma, 84.5 percent compared to 76.1 percent, and about half as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree, 37.1 percent compared to 18.0 percent.
  • San Joaquin Valley young people between the ages of 3 and 24 are about as likely to be enrolled in school as other young Californians, however. Compared to boys and young men, girls and young women ages 3 to 24 have slightly higher rates of school enrollment in the San Joaquin Valley, and women ages 25 and up enjoy an edge over their male counterparts across all educational outcomes, from high school graduation to graduate degree attainment—though this educational advantage is not reflected in their earnings.



  • Median personal earnings in the San Joaquin Valley are $31,100, about $8,800 less than in the state overall. Men vastly outearn women, $35,900 versus $25,500, a difference of $10,400. Though the sizes of the earnings gaps vary by race and ethnicity, women across the San Joaquin Valley earn much less than men, a phenomenon also found in California and in the country as a whole.